Mozilla's product design strategy team is working on a new mobile browser that specifically targets the capabilities of Apple's iPad. Called Junior, the coming product is being designed to respond to the different ways in which consumers and business professionals use tablets to browse the Web.
Mozilla team member Alex Limi believes that the iPad's current Safari browser delivers a miserable experience. "It feels like the one app that they took from the Mac and just slapped it into the iPad," Limi said.
Mozilla's tablet focus right now is on "finding ways to innovate where we are the first, the best or the only," Limi said. The goal of Mozilla's Junior browser is "to reinvent the browser for a new form factor," he said.
The Need to Adapt
Junior is designed to deliver an immersive experience by eliminating the clutter of tabs and buttons that users normally find on Web browsers. Having a full-screen browser gives users a magazine like feel by taking away the tab bar clutter at the top of the screen.
"We added two buttons by your left and right thumbs so it is very easy to use the back button and plus button to go somewhere new," Limi said during a presentation Thursday.
The plus button beside the right thumb takes the user to another screen that enables them to perform the three browser tasks they are most likely to want to do. At the top of this page, for example, is a series of recently visited page thumbnails called containers.
If the user has just run through 50 pages at Gizmodo, they are all contained within a single thumbnail. The containers "essentially combine the tabs and history" functions of prior-generation browsers, Limi said.
Right below the containers is a set of 20 icons for the user's most frequently visited sites. And at the bottom of the page is an on-screen keyboard with an entry window at the top for conducting searches and other tasks that require text input.
As consumers and business professionals move into touch-based tablets as their primary means for information and content consumption, the software they use has to change, said Al Hilwa, director of Applications Software Development at IDC. "Mozilla is wise to see this need to adapt," Hilwa told us Monday.
Most desktop software has too many buttons for a tablet user interface, and the buttons are too small to be touched and certain functionality such as tabbing has to be reinterpreted to a tablet world.
Also, "tablets will bring a type of user who might not exploit advanced functionality unless it is baked tightly into the UI in a well-vetted manner," Hilwa said.
Regaining Market Momentum
Mobile devices currently account for a 7.8 percent share of all browsing activities worldwide, with Apple's Safari holding a 63.2 percent share and Google's Android browser a distant second with a 19.2 percent share.
We asked Net Applications Executive Vice President Vince Vizzaccaro whether he believes it's a smart move for Mozilla to be eying the growing mobile browser market given that the growth of Firefox on traditional PCs seems to have hit a plateau.
"As far as Mozilla is concerned, I think they absolutely have to address the mobile space better," Vizzaccaro said Monday. "While it may be the best choice available to Mozilla, I'm not sure that simply building a browser for the iPad is enough."
Vizzaccaro noted that mobile users tend to use the default browser for their specific devices far more than desktop users. "I don't know which hardware/OS vendor makes sense for this, but Mozilla's best opportunity to do well in mobile would be to partner with one," Vizzaccaro said.